In my former life as an executive, I served as a board member for the company’s Political Action Committee (PAC). Professionally trained to influence Congressional leaders, I joined our Washington D.C. lobbyists in advocating on behalf of renal patients needing dialysis delivered in the home rather than centers; funding to research treatment of often-fatal blood disorders like hemophilia; for hospitals struggling to fund technology to improve patient safety while shouldering the high cost of the uninsured.
Little did I know the lessons learned were preparing me for the second half of my life, when cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes would become my life’s work.
Lesson one: The primary goal of every politician is to be re-elected.
Voting is essential. No vote, no voice. I now leverage that vote by regularly reminding politicians that if they are to represent me, they must prioritize the ecosystem of the Great Lakes. With the help of organizations like the Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Sierra Club, I can review legislative scorecards and hold elected officials accountable.
Lesson two: Just as businesses segment their customer base, politicians analyze and prioritize their potential constituents.
Their first step is to identify those in the district over eighteen years of age who are eligible to vote. Of those, who actually vote? If you voted, and voted for that politician, you are important. If you not only voted for the politician but contributed money to the campaign, you are more important. If you contributed money and influenced others to vote on his or her behalf, you can earn a seat at the table of influence.
As an individual, I most likely will never earn a seat at the table. But I can team up with organizations advocating on behalf of the Great Lakes, organizations representing a large block of voters, with staff who follow key legislation as it works its way through Congress, add focus with petitions, fund research, participate in public hearings, apply timely, appropriate pressure to negotiate solutions, and when all else fails, sue to protect the public’s right to clean, safe water.
It is because of such organizations, that funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) continues despite President Trump’s opposition.Championed by the Healing Our Waters-Great Lakes Coalition of over 150 environmental, conservation, and outdoor recreation organizations; zoos, aquariums, and museums, the GLRI addresses issues such as toxic substances in the water, invasive species, the most impaired harbors and waterways, habitat and wildlife protection, and pollution caused by agricultural and industrial runoff.
The power wielded by this coalition of organizations representing so many votes was—and is—impossible to ignore. As a result, Congress overruled President Trump and continued to provide $300 million/year for GLRI funding in 2017 and 2018, funding provided every year since 2010.
Lesson three: Before walking into the office of a Congressional leader, have credible and well-researched facts in hand.
The sheer number and complexity of decisions regarding access to water from so many diverse and often-competing stakeholders require facts grounded in science and backed by law. It is why over Labor Day, traditionally the last frolicking day of summer’s seeming freedom, I found myself thinking about the people working tirelessly for organizations advocating for the Great Lakes.
While the geographic scope, area of focus, and expertise may differ, these nonprofit organizations conduct research to ensure our lakes become clean and healthy again. They educate and engage people in the importance of protecting this national treasure. With our support, they become voices in the offices of elected officials, voices too influential to ignore.
But they can’t do it without our contributions, without our signatures on petitions, without our presence at public hearings, without our commitment to vote for those willing to proactively protect the quality of Great Lakes water. This election year, please consider identifying one (or more) of these organizations you can support.
And vote on behalf of our water.
The McKSchmidt Questions: Week 6
A Grassroots Effort to Prioritize Our Water
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